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It’s Not About Ableness

People are very attached to terms they use, and it maybe hard to change, but the impact of using specific terms could be doing more harm than good. So, when we discuss the disability community there are two terms that often come up in discourse about people who are disabled or not disabled and that’s whether or not a person is able-bodied or abled indicating not disabled. These terms are used frequently in the disability community without much more thought about what it actually signifies to other people in the disability community.

*Please note: the picture above has descriptive alt text that we wrote, but is only usable for screen readers as it is a featured image.

People are very attached to terms they use, and it maybe hard to change, but the impact of using specific terms could be doing more harm than good. So, when we discuss the disability community there are two terms that often come up in discourse about people who are disabled or not disabled and that’s whether or not a person is able-bodied or abled indicating not disabled. These terms are used frequently in the disability community without much more thought about what it actually signifies to other people in the disability community.

It’s interesting that in the disability community states, “disability does not equal inability” and yet we measure how disabled a person is by how abled the person is. So, the questions arise, is it about ableness in determining if someone is disabled or not? How do we measure how disabled someone is by how abled-bodied they are? At what point is someone disabled enough not to be considered abled-bodied?

The term able-bodied centers and validates physical and evident disabilities and how abled a person is, the term others people, and divides the disability community. The whole idea of calling people abled-bodied or an abled is flawed and ignores a huge portion of the disability community who are still “abled-bodied” such as people with traumatic brain injuries (TBI), migraines, Blind, Deaf, sensory, autoimmune disorders, mental health disabilities, learning disabilities, and other non evident disabilities. Their body is not disabled, and yet they are still disabled, so where do they fit in the whole able-bodied statement, which in the context of most online platforms use to state non-disabled.

Furthermore, there is a lot of confusion when using abled-bodied and this term can create internalized ableism for some as they are wondering if they are disabled enough to be considered disabled. It’s important to note that this comes from the disability community itself plus outside ableism on top. However, there is a lot of lateral ableism within the community that needs to be addressed as well. Some people in the disability community considers the word as invalidating and does not center on disability, but how abled someone is. The term has also made some feel like the term abled-bodied sounds like it’s better than having a disability, making them feel less than. It’s important to be mindful that when using terms to describe a group of people that it’s important to be inclusive of everyone.  

There needs to be a major shift to use the term non-disabled which brings back the focus to being disabled. This term also is inclusive of every single disabled person on the disability spectrum. It is also clear that you are either disabled or not, there is no guessing the meaning. It does not center on how abled someone is, and it’s divisive enough and does not split the disability community. The disability community has a responsibility to create change to be more inclusive of all members of the community.

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